The article was first published in the Opinion section of The Wall Street Journal on July 18, 2012.
Ryken and Garvey: An Evangelical-Catholic Stand on Liberty
Why Catholic University and Wheaton College are suing to stop the Obama administration's contraception mandate.
By Philip Ryken and John Garvey
American Evangelicals and Catholics have not always been the best of friends. But in recent years, many in both camps have moved from suspicion to mutual understanding and appreciation.
Charles Colson, the evangelical founder of Prison Fellowship, began one such effort with Richard John Neuhaus, the Catholic editor of First Things, 20 years ago. The fruit of their labor was a document titled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together."
That statement shows that alongside our theological differences, we hold important beliefs in common. For example, the statement says, "we contend together for religious freedom. . . . In their relationship to God, persons have a dignity and responsibility that transcends, and thereby limits, the authority of the state and of every other merely human institution." Recent efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Affordable Care Act have brought us together to defend that freedom.
On Wednesday, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the trustees of Wheaton College joined The Catholic University of America in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services. They did so because the HHS mandate requiring the college to provide and subsidize insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs violates the conscience of the school and its members, and denies their First Amendment freedom of religion.
When Catholic University began its own legal action on May 21, it asserted a moral and a constitutional right to practice its religion without government interference. Defending liberty is also deeply rooted in Wheaton's identity as a Christian liberal arts college, founded by abolitionists on the Illinois prairie at the outset of the Civil War.
Wheaton's first president, Jonathan Blanchard, believed that slavery was something more than an "ordinary political problem." He felt a religious imperative to act in defense of freedom. "A command against my conscience," he said, "I would not obey."
Our institutions do not agree on all points about HHS's mandated services. The regulations require religious institutions (except churches) to guarantee coverage for all government-approved contraceptives. Wheaton College does not, as Catholics do, view all forms of artificial contraception as immoral.
But the list of required services includes "morning after" and "week after" pills that claim the life of an unborn child within days of its conception. During the period for public comment, Wheaton and many other evangelical colleges and universities objected that this requirement violated their belief in the sanctity of human life.
We must cherish life, not destroy it. This belief is shared by both campus communities. The Catholic Church's unqualified defense of the unborn is too well known to need restatement. Wheaton's commitment is equally firm.
As a systemically Christian college, all of Wheaton's students, faculty and staff undertake to live a distinctive lifestyle. In its Community Covenant, the college affirms "the God-given worth of human beings, from conception to death." Because abortion destroys innocent human life, the college regards the HHS mandate as contrary to its deepest convictions.
Many Americans disagree with our shared belief in the immorality of abortion. That is their right. But there should be no dispute about a second point we hold in common: Religious schools like Wheaton College and Catholic University should have the freedom—guaranteed by the United States Constitution—to carry out our mission in a way that is consistent with our religious principles.
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation," Justice Robert Jackson wrote in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), "it is that no official . . . can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." It is not just churches that have these religious rights, but all Americans who gather in voluntary association for distinctively religious purposes, such as Christian education.
The danger in ignoring Justice Jackson's principle is not limited to institutions like Wheaton College and Catholic University. The real danger is to our republic. As Colson and Neuhaus observed in "Evangelicals and Catholics Together": "[T]his constitutional order is composed not just of rules and procedures but is most essentially a moral experiment. . . . [W]e hold that only a virtuous people can be free and just, and that virtue is secured by religion. To propose that securing civil virtue is the purpose of religion is blasphemous. To deny that securing civil virtue is a benefit of religion is blindness."
A government that fails to heed the cries of its religious institutions undermines the supports of civil virtue and puts in jeopardy our constitutional order.
Messrs. Ryken and Garvey are the presidents, respectively, of Wheaton College and The Catholic University of America.
A version of this article appeared July 19, 2012, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: An Evangelical-Catholic Stand on Liberty.